December 2007

Gun Tests Guns Of The Year 2007

Which firearms offer can’t-miss combinations of performance and value? We look back at the previous 11 months of evaluations in Gun Tests and tell you what we would buy.

Every December I survey the work Ray Ordorica, Roger Eckstine, Ralph Winingham, Jennifer Pearsall, Ben Brooks, Joe Syczylo, Dave Henderson, and Kevin Winkle have done in Gun Tests, with an eye toward selecting guns the magazine’s staffers have endorsed wholeheartedly. From these evaluations I pick the best from a full year’s worth of tests and distill summary recommendations for readers, who often use them as year-end shopping guides. These "best of" choices are a mixture of our original tests and other information I’ve compiled during the year. After the magazine’s FFLs sell high-rated test products to readers, I keep tabs on how many of those guns do over time, and if the firearms continue performing well, then I have confidence including them in this wrap-up.

This year we introduced letter-grade scoring, so to keep the results consistent, I made previous "Our Pick" and "Best Buy" choices conform to our current grading scale. All the guns in this compilation are "A" or "A+" choices.

Best in Class: PISTOLS

Springfield Armory Enhanced Micro Pistol

9mm P192029LP, $1253

Reviewed: February 2007

We chose this gun as Best in Class because it offered a fresh angle on 1911 ergonomics. In large hands, it initially felt small and perhaps lacked the 1911’s traditional willingness to point. But when nestled in the palm, control during rapid fire was reassuring. For the shooter with small hands, it should offer unparalleled ergonomics.

Best In Class Firearms 2007

Best In Class Firearms 2007

The EMP’s alloy frame and steel slide were coated with a matte finish, black frame and satin stainless slide. Thin, fancy wood grips were applied as well as ambidextrous thumb-operated safeties.

The EMP included all of the Springfield Armory Loaded’s features, such as ventilated aluminum trigger adjustable for overtravel, skeletonized hammer, memory groove grip safety, night sights, and checkered mainspring housing. The EMP utilized a bushingless bull barrel system, lowered and flared ejection port and beveled magazine well.

What the handgun’s operator can’t see on first blush was that along with shrinking the grip frame front to back, as many as fifteen different parts had to be scaled down to accommodate the change in size. Accordingly, the manufacturer refers to the EMP as being chambered for "short-action pistol cartridges."

The Enhanced Micro Pistol arrived in a lockable plastic pistol case and two stainless-steel 9-round magazines produced by Mec-Gar of Italy. The base pad of each magazine added a final contour to the front strap and provided an impact point for seating the magazine.

There was also a form-fit holster and dual magazine pouch made of plastic. Each unit included accessory rails along the edges for storing a light or other accessory. The EMP was not fit with a rail for mounting a light.

We found an inscription on the belt side of the magazine carrier that read, "1911 EMP 9mm/40 S&W." According to Springfield Armory a .40 S&W EMP is in the works. Unlike our experience with the bulkier XD pistol pack, the supplied holster proved to be a very good match for the little 1911, holding it smartly to our side.

At the range we worried that the small size of the EMP would prevent us from settling the gun effectively on the bench. We needn’t have worried. The Springfield landed sub-1-inch groups with each test ammunition.

When handling the gun, we learned the small grip made it easier to quickly find the magazine release. We had expected the necessary reduction in size of the magazine well to hamper reloading, but Springfield beveled all four sides of the well, creating a slightly oval shape. This helped us insert a fresh magazine. Once the mag was in place, we were able to free the slide using the release lever or by pulling back the slide.

In our action test we discovered that pointing the gun and releasing the safety could be accomplished very quickly. We thought the EMP trigger was the most refined among our test pistols and reset was very fast. These characteristics let us shoot very aggressively and set the fastest times of our tests.

Elapsed time ranged from 1.64 seconds to 1.86 seconds. In the A-zone only one shot struck left of center. Two shots were high of the B-zone but hit below the scalp line, and one shot found the lower jaw of the silhouette.

Taurus Millennium PT145 Pro SS

No. 145SSP .45 ACP, $421

Reviewed: January 2007

The PT145 Pro SS offered a lot of features in a small package. It had an accessory rail underneath the dustcover, a key-operated lock that seized both the slide and the trigger, a thumb-operated safety, and Richard Heinie’s Straight Eight sights. The dots were not self illuminating, but both the front and rear units were dovetailed into place and grooved to reduce glare. The rear unit was windage adjustable by drift only.

The PT145 pistols differ from the Taurus 24/7 series primarily in the manner in which the frame meets the slide. The polymer receiver of the 24/7 design is attached to a sub frame that includes the rails on which the slide will connect. This creates maximum metal-to-metal contact.

The PT145 places most of its stress on a steel locking block found just below the barrel chamber. The rails to the rear of the pistol were composed of polymer and molded as one piece with the frame. These rails play more of a guiding rather than weight-bearing role.

Shooting from the bench, we learned that the trigger had a great deal of take-up. We measured the actual distance to be about 0.5 inch. But the Taurus did feature "double-strike" capability. The striker will deliver a blow every time you pull the trigger regardless of whether the slide has moved. But we suffered no such problem.

There was a marked difference in this gun’s preference for ammunition. Our best results came with the rounds that recoil the most. It seemed like the gun locked up better when cycled with authority, as we managed a best single group of 1.2 inches firing the Black Hills 230-grain JHP ammunition. Average muzzle energy was about 261 foot-pounds for all three choices of test ammunition.

In our close-quarters practical test, acquisition, loading, and firing the first shot from the Taurus took 2.68 seconds on the first run and 2.98 seconds on the second run. Total elapsed times were 13.26 seconds and 14.89 seconds respectively. Both runs produced twelve of twelve required hits on string one, (transition to strong hand only), and eleven hits on string two (transition to weak hand only). One magazine would not drop free. We made a note to carry the magazine that was a little too fat on our belt rather than loaded in the gun.

We found in our slide-lock trials that the release was readily available and worked without fail. This gave us the option to pull back the slide or press the release to charge the pistol.

Our staff agreed that the Taurus PT145 Pro SS had a big gun feel to it. The grip was full size, and we soon got over the distraction of the long take-up in the trigger. During one-handed fire, it felt about the same whether we were shooting with the left or right hand.

The sights were easily visible, and the gun didn’t overreact during recoil.

We found the left-side thumb safety difficult to apply, but much easier to push downward, making the gun ready to fire. The safety lever itself was not very wide and didn’t get in the way or snag on clothing. It did, however, prop the gun up just enough to make our two handed drill of scooping the pistol into the right hand off of the barrel top a simple chore.

Springfield Armory XD40 SC HC

No. XD9822HCSP06 .40 S&W, $566

Reviewed: January 2007

Currently, most of the XD pistols come in what Springfield Armory calls a package deal. This includes an oversize plastic case that packs not only a cable lock, Allen wrench and fired case but a belt slide holster, dual magazine pouch and like our other test pistols a magazine loader.

But the Springfield Armory loader is far more trick than its competitors. Not only is it contoured with a finger groove to make it eminently more useful, but it had a Picatinny clamp designed to fit either one of the matching rails on the sides of the magazine pouch or the rail on the front of the holster. These accessory rails can also be used to store a weapon light or laser attachment.

The suffixes SC and HC stand for subcompact and high capacity, respectively. One supplied magazine held nine rounds and was fit with a flat basepad. The suffix HC means that our XD40 was also shipped with a 12-round magazine originally designed for the standard size XD frame. A 360-degree collar was fit just above the basepad that was designed to blend with and extend the grip. This arrangement actually worked quite well. The gap between the grip frame and the collar was small and at no time did it pinch our hands. A slight amount of movement of the magazine was perceptible, but it was not enough to distract our shooters. Magazine release was ambidextrous making the XD left hand friendly.

The XD design does not offer a thumb safety but aside from the striker block safety located in the face of the trigger, (similar in design to Glock’s Saf-Action); there were three other safety features.

When the chamber was loaded, a lever popped up that can be felt by the operator without looking. The same goes for an extension of the striker that protruded from the rear of the slide when the action was cocked. Last was the grip safety.

One of the more hazardous situations is getting a piece of garment lodged inside the trigger guard when holstering. Ignition can occur when trying to remove the obstruction or simply as the gun shifts in the holster. Without the grip safety compressed the trigger may be hit but the gun will not fire. With the long high-cap magazine in place, our pistol looked almost taller than the length of the matte stainless steel slide. In fact, we liked the feel of the XD subcompact even without room for the pinky.

The Black Hills 165-grain JHP ammunition proved to be the most powerful round in our tests overall producing an average of 395 ft.-lbs. of muzzle energy. But our other choices of test rounds were more accurate, with groups ranging from 1.2 to 1.9 inches on average.

In our practical test we put up some very fast times and only dropped one shot out of the required 24. Elapsed time for loading and firing the XD40 was consistently the fastest. Elapsed times were 13.29 for the run transitioning to the strong hand only and 14.37 seconds for the run transitioning to the weak hand.

What we liked best about the XD40 SC HC was its consistent short-throw trigger. The trigger required about 8 pounds of pressure to break a shot, which we think also helped make the gun safe.

Phoenix HP22A .22 LR, $140

Reviewed: June 2007

The frame, slide, and barrel housing of the single-action Phoenix are made of non-magnetic material, presumably zinc castings, but with steel inserts at appropriate locations, such as within the barrel, on the breech face, and where the slide presses against the hammer to cock it during ejection. Most internal parts are steel.

The sight picture was exceptionally good. The squared front blade was serrated or notched to cut glare, and the rear blade had adequate width to its notch to let the sights work well and quickly. A detented screw gave windage adjustment to the rear blade. However, the gun was perfectly sighted, and we moved the blade only to get a feel for how it worked. The finish was black paint, and the grip panels were checkered plastic. There was a vented rib along the top of the gun. The external hammer was easily cocked. The slide had good serrations that made it easy to operate.

There were what appeared to be two safeties. However, the one on the slide, with its red dot, was only a firing-pin block. For most of our shooting we put it into the firing position and ignored it. The real safety was at the top of the left grip panel, and operated almost normally. When it was in the Fire position, you could not remove the magazine. Press it up to Safe, and the ten-round mag drops free. This safety button could also be used to lock the slide back, though that didn’t happen when the magazine ran empty. With the button in Safe, you could not rack the slide fully, but could check the chamber easily. Neither could you cock the hammer, nor drop it, with that button shoved upward. Once all the operations were fully understood, they all made perfect sense and became second nature to us. Our test shooters did not do any fumbling with the gun once its operations were all made clear.

The instructions for the Phoenix recommended only standard-velocity ammunition. We chose to follow that recommendation with one exception. We tested with three standard-velocity loads, Remington Rifle Target, Federal Match, CCI Pistol Match, and the high-velocity exception, Winchester Super-X Power Point hollowpoints.

On the range we found it quite easy to load the first seven shots into the ten-round magazine. However, we had to work hard to get in the last three rounds. In fact, we noticed a bit of stickiness chambering the first round from a full magazine. We’d load only eight or nine rounds if we owned the Phoenix, and our fingers would thank us. The Phoenix went right to work. The sights were on the money, and the little gun made decent groups dead center at 15 yards. In the course of our testing, the groups seemed to be getting smaller. The trigger pull was clean, reasonably light, and gave good control. The rounds all fed, right from the start, just like they were supposed to. In all our limited testing we had no failures to feed, fire, or eject, other than having the help the slide go forward on occasion with ten rounds in the mag.

With such a low price here, we expected many problems with this pistol. We had exactly none. We came to love the Phoenix. For only $140 locally priced, you get a compact, quite accurate, well fitted, adjustable-sighted (windage) pocketable, useful little .22 auto that has a very good trigger and some innovative features.

Springfield Armory XD45 Compact

XD9645HCSP06 .45 ACP, $589

Reviewed: July 2007

The 4-inch-barrel XD pistols are referred to as being Service models. Like the 5-inch Tactical XD pistol, the application of a frame with shorter grip is what earns these guns the designation of Compact. The XD pistols do not have a safety per se, but offer an important safety feature when compared to the Glock pistols.

The XD utilizes a safety that is turned off when a lever in the face of the trigger is compressed. This assures that the gun will not fire unless there is contact with the trigger. The XD goes further by including a grip-operated safety that must also be compressed.

Another basic difference between the two guns is that pressing the trigger on the XD adds very little rearward movement to the striker. A hole in the rear of the XD slide allows a stainless-steel indicator to poke through and tell the operator that the gun is ready to fire. The Glock trigger has a longer stroke as it works to push the striker back to its break point. The result is that the XD trigger has more of a crisp, single-action feel.

Another way in which the XD pistols differ from Glock is in takedown procedure. With the gun empty, the slide was locked back and the latch located on the left side of the frame was turned upward 90 degrees. The slide can then be released by pulling the trigger and sliding it off the frame.

The XD compact pistol arrived with a 10-round magazine with a flat basepad and a 13-round magazine fit with a collar that matches up with the grip frame. The magazine bodies were polished stainless steel. The collar of the longer magazine did a good job of extending the grip. Visually, there was a noticeable gap, but it did not pinch the shooter’s hand. Grip with either magazine in place was very good. The magazine release was ambidextrous, making the XD pistol left-hand friendly. Sights were a three-dot design dovetailed into place.

Faced with two magazines of different capacities, the consumer may ask, "Which magazine do I start with and which one do I reload to?" Here are some answers. If your intent is to carry these guns concealed, they are much easier to hide with the 10-round magazine in place. We also found that in our action test the shorter magazine, affording less grip, let the gun recoil more naturally. With the long magazine in place, it was too easy to overpower the gun and not let it settle properly between shots. Also, if you should need to reload, you have to remember that releasing the long magazine means reducing the grip by about one-third. The longer magazine will likely hang up on the palm of the hand. Some will argue that 10 rounds should be enough, let alone 13. But magazine changes are not always necessitated by shooting until empty. A malfunction can also force a reload. Springfield Armory advertises these models as being two guns in one. That could easily mean the long magazines are for defending the home and the short magazines are for concealed carry.

From the bench our test shooter preferred the longer magazine in place. Indeed, for one hand the flat-based magazine could offer plenty of grip. Accuracy from support produced an average group of about 1 inch.

In our action test the numbers do not tell the whole story. We had four misses to the left of the A-zone (16/20), but they were printed in a tight group. This offset indicates shooter error in our judgment. Three shots were missing from the B-zone, for an overall score of 7/10. But our staff enjoyed shooting the 4-inch model because it felt balanced in our hands.

best in clasS: REVOLVERS

Smith & Wesson 686 Plus

.357 Magnum 164194, $790

Reviewed: March 2007

The 686 Plus is more expensive than many of its competitors, but it also carries an extra round, and the action was very good. The Ruger GP100 may make magnum rounds easier to handle, but based on accuracy alone the 686 Plus might have landed on top in our previous test.

The Smith & Wesson catalog describes the seven-shot Model 686 Plus 164194 as having a full underlug that enclosed the ejector rod and added recoil-opposing weight beneath the barrel. It had a ramped front sight with orange-colored insert and a rear sight that was adjustable for windage and elevation. It had a flat-faced hammer and frame-mounted firing pin, finger-grooved grips, and counter-clockwise rotation of the cylinder.

Our session with the seven-shot Smith & Wesson 686 Plus was uneventful. We loaded it, we fired it. Whatever adjustment to the sights was necessary was completed quickly and easily with a single screwdriver.

The single-action trigger was heavier than we like, but before we knew it, the shot was gone. The double-action trigger was better than the action we found on the Smith & Wesson 619 in our last test. The gun was very well balanced, and despite the exposed backstrap of the rubber Hogue Monogrip the level of comfort and control was all we could ask for.

The ejector rod played a part in lockup and the ejector star was kept from turning by meshing with the outline of each chamber. This did away with the need for anchoring pins pressed into the cylinder face that can break off. The cylinder latch was contoured and taking a further cue from custom gunsmiths its surface was finely checkered for a sure grip. The sides of this stainless steel revolver were brushed in an understated manner and the top strap was treated to a matte finish to reduce glare. Originally, a sister model offered in blue steel was dubbed the 586. Today, the 586 is available as a special ported model only.

At the range we saw that the sights were sturdy and clear. The white outline on the rear sight notch wasn’t really noticeable, and not one of our staff really remembered it being there until after they had shot.

Accuracy from the bench shooting the .38 Special Black Hills 148-grain Match Wadcutter rounds was outstanding. One group barely measured an inch across. Our average group size measured 1.2 inches center to center.

The Black Hills 125-grain JHP .357 Magnum ammunition proved nearly as consistent as the light recoiling wadcutters. But the range in group size was measured to be between 1.7 inches to 2.0 inches.

Charles Daly 1873 Standard Model

.38 Special/.357 Magnum, $479

Reviewed: February 2007

The finish looked great, we thought. The bluing was very well done on nicely polished parts. The one-piece walnut grips’ dark finish was complemented by an incised and tasteful "CD" at the top. The fit of the wood to the steel was excellent. The wood was too sharp at the bottom. The cylinder had the appropriate bevels at its front end, and had the full-length, base-pin bushing insert common to early Colts. The trigger guard had the turn-of-century rounding that most of us prefer. The action was slick, the hammer feeling quite smooth.

The barrel bore the Charles Daly name and the caliber markings on its left side. Neither the barrel nor the frame had any of the usually seen Colt date stamps or address markings. The gun looked and felt like a Colt, despite the absence of the markings. However, the cylinder did not quite interchange with that of a genuine old Colt. The front sight was way too high, as we found on the range, but that’s always better than being too short. The rear notch sight picture was wide and clean, and the front sight had a flat top.

Daly offers several options, but in only two calibers, .45 LC and .38/.357 Mag. There is a stainless version with pseudo-ivory grips and with your choice of three barrel lengths, 4.8, 5.5, or 7.5 inches. There’s a brass-handled version in three lengths, but .45 only, at $450. There are three blued & case-colored versions, like our test gun, in each of 45 and .38/.357 at $479 each, and six stainless versions, each of which will set you back $630. From the images posted on the company website (www.charlesdaly.com), the brass grips do not quite have the correct contours.

One thing we didn’t much care for was the base pin. It had two notches cut into it that had to be lined up so they were in the bottom position as you pressed the base pin into the cylinder. The second notch acted as a firing pin block, and that’s fine, but getting either notch in the right spot was a nasty trick. We prefer the original Colt system, which had a groove machined into the base pin so all you had to do was slide it back until it stopped against the frame, and the catch would then lock easily into place.

On the range we found the Daly printed well enough, groups being 1.5 to 2 inches, but it shot about six inches low with everything. The light-bullet .357 loads printed even lower, though the 130-grain SXT Winchester ammo shot to about the same point as the cowboy loads. The blowby and blast seemed to be tolerable with .357 ammo in this gun. We tried one heavy-bullet Buffalo Bore .38 round and it shot much closer to the aim point than anything else. The fix here is to know what ammo you’re going to use, and then file the front sight so your load hits where you want. The gun also printed about 2 inches right, something you’d have to live with.

We thought the Daly was a pleasant option for the cowboy-action shooter or anyone looking for a fun gun that gives a taste of the old West. It was well made, looked good, and would probably last a long time. The front sight needs filing, but most cowboy guns have that problem. It had an excellent trigger, with no creep and a break at 3.3 pounds.

Ruger Redhawk KRH-444, $780

Reviewed: September 2007

If there is any comparison to be drawn between these revolvers and the world of semi-automatic pistols, it is perhaps the appeal of the big bullet. The small-bore high-capacity frenzy seems to have abated, and now it seems that every manufacturer is making a 45-caliber pistol. With the release of more .44s, revolver makers may also be saying when capacity is limited, why not chamber a larger caliber?

Ruger’s stout-looking 4-inch Redhawk cut a profile of classic lines unique to its manufacturer. Only available in stainless steel, the KRH-444 employed a brushed finish. The boxy frame featured a push-button cylinder latch, broad top strap, and a fully adjustable rear sight fixed by a short stem pinned into place.

The ramped front sight was a separate unit also pinned into place. It was black with a plastic orange-colored insert. The front of the unit was beveled for easier holstering, and except for the insert, the edges were lined to reduce glare. We didn’t experience quite as much glare from the insert as we did with the Smith & Wesson, most likely because the ramp was cut at a steeper angle.

The barrel carried just enough underlug to shroud the ejector rod, and the grooved flat top of the barrel was most pronounced. The cylinder offered two lockup points by way of pressure at the rear of the ejector rod and a detent latch located on the crane that interlocked with the frame just below the shroud for the ejector rod. The tip of the ejector rod does not play a part in lockup, and it was not screwed into place. It couldn’t back out and make cylinder release difficult. The timing lugs were cut deeply into the fluted cylinder, and the cylinder stop was tall and heavily sprung. There was no provision for an internal lock.

Ruger has recently begun offering Hogue grips with its Redhawks. Our revolver came with Hogue’s Bantam grip in place. This is the first time we have seen this grip on a large revolver, and it worked very well. The Bantam helps shorten the gun by leaving the back of the grip frame completely exposed. Shock absorption was addressed by evenly filling the hand with a bulbous profile. Given the Ruger was the heaviest gun in our test by about 7 ounces, we still would credit the Bantam grip with making the Ruger the most comfortable of our test guns to shoot. The Bantam was a slip-on grip that required a supplied tool to pry it from the frame. Underneath the grip we saw the mainspring action was supplied by a combination of a lever and a coil spring. Nevertheless, the double-action trigger was predictable and smooth. The shooter had plenty of feedback by way of telltale clicking and cylinder rotation. The Redhawk was the easiest gun to shoot accurately in our double-action repeat-fire tests.

From the bench the Federal Fusion ammunition in combination with the Redhawk produced the best overall performance. Velocity was about 70 fps less than the 629, but our best five-shot group measured 1 inch across. Groups produced firing the American Eagle ammunition were about the same as other guns, with a deficit in average velocity of about 40 fps. Accuracy firing our choices of .44 Special ammunition had groups measuring 3 inches across and more.

The 4-inch Redhawk shows how strength and consistency can pay off when properly downsized. The Ruger might prove too heavy for some to carry around on the hip, but it was small enough to be stowed handily in a drawer or other compartment.

The Redhawk KRH-444 was our top choice for all around performance.

Best in Class: RIFLES

Browning Buck Mark Sporter

.22 LR No. 021026102, $572

Reviewed: February 2007

This is a quick-handling plinker that sports a very nice set of open sights. Acquiring the target, whether it was paper on the shooting range or small game, was very easy, and the Browning was a pleasure to carry and handle.

Just about anyone who has ever pulled a trigger will admit that there are times when their goal is to send a lot of lead down range with a minimum of effort and a maximum of fun. Call it "Rock and Roll" or just plinking, this type of shooting can be accomplished with about any firearm, but is best suited for what can be described as a cross between handguns and rifles.

One model that falls in this category is the Browning Buck Mark Sporter, which lists for $572. The Browning is basically a version of the manufacturer’s popular handgun that has been adapted to use a rifle stock and barrel. It uses easy-to-load 10-round magazines and is capable of semiautomatic rapid fire favored by plinkers trying to punch holes in a target.

Other than the space-age look of the grip, this quick and light rifle features a classic appearance of a quality firearm with its lightly oiled walnut stock and forearm and matte-finished barrel and action. Both attractive and easy to handle, the Browning was the immediate favorite among the old-school members of our team.

The rifle tips the scale at just under 5 pounds, and its 18-inch barrel and overall length of 33.5 inches provide a quick-pointing platform, we thought.

The large opening between the pistol grip and the stock and the slight rise in the comb of the stock caused our team slight problems in measuring the stock dimensions. We settled on a drop at the comb of 1.5 inches and drop at the heel of 1.25 inches.

Bringing the fiber-optic sights to bear on targets was easy for all our team members, a big plus for snapping off a quick, accurate shot.

The rifle’s length of pull of 15.25 inches was satisfactory for each of our shooters, and we liked the wood feel of the comb of the stock. Breaking at just over 4 pounds, the trigger pull was a little heavy for our tastes, but falls within the parameters of the standards found in most out-of-the-box rifles.

We were also particularly pleased with the accessibility of the action that allowed single shot loading with ease. We experienced no malfunctions with any of the ammunition, but removing a jammed round would have been easily accomplished.

Accuracy with the Buck Mark, using the open sights and a steady rest, included our best 10-shot groups at 50 yards being about 1.5 inches in diameter, and the rifle seemed to favor the CCI Standard ammunition. With a red-dot optic or a low-power scope, accuracy should improve.

As noted earlier, there were no malfunctions of any kind with the Browning. All of our shooters were right handed, so we found the magazine release and safety on the right side of the pistol grip were easy to use and very effective. The magazine drop was smooth and quick each time it was released.

Because of the Buck Mark’s balance, shooting from the hip (always make sure you are firing in a safe direction) was both fun and acceptably accurate.

Remington 750 Woodsmaster .30-06

No. 27061, $831

Reviewed: May 2007

This model, introduced in 2006, is chambered for .243 Win.,. 270 Win., .308 Win., .30-06, and .35 Whelen. An 18.5-inch barrel Carbine is the same price, and a synthetic model introduced this year sells for $732.

The 750 variants replace the 7400 model, which we reviewed in July 1998. The 750 had a four-shot magazine, and on our test gun, a 22-inch round-tapered blued barrel. The gun weighed 7.5 pounds and measured 42.6 inches in overall length. The stock has been restyled, with an American walnut forend and stock with machine-cut checkering under a satin finish. Sights included a gold-bead front sight on a ramp and a step rear sight that’s windage adjustable. The gas-action gun came with an R3 recoil pad, and had a positive cross-bolt safety with a Remington key lock. The receiver was tapped for a scope mount.

In the 750, the gas orifice is drilled at a 45-degree angle, instead of a 90-degree angle like on the 740/742/7400 guns. This eliminates a 90-degree turn at the gas port, and it eliminates shaving-off copper in the bore from the projectile. The gasblock on the 750’s barrel has been moved rearward, which also moves the gas orifice hole rearward. Moving the gas hole back captures gases sooner and under greater pressure, which should increase reliability.

The barrel extension is now made as a cast part instead of a machined part. By casting, Remington says it can better control internal geometries and eliminate machining burrs, which they say translates into better reliability. Also, the bolt head has a slick nickel/Teflon coating, which smoothes out bolt sluggishness. The gun comes with an R3 recoil pad, and the comb drop has been lowered at the comb so that the shooter can use the rifle sights more easily, one of our complaints about the 7400.

All of our testers agreed the R3 recoil pad was comfortable and effective. The R3 buttpad was very soft, though it wasn’t fitted flush with the buttstock. Our sample came with nicely figured walnut on the buttstock and forend, which featured finger grooves more like what we’d expect on a pump gun. The buttstock had a Monte Carlo-style cheekpiece. The gun came to shoulder smoothly and naturally, and gave us a solid cheekweld to view the sights or scope. Three out of five test shooters preferred the Remington’s stock design over the others. It made no difference to one, and the left-handed shooter preferred the other two. Three out of five testers preferred the forend on the Remington.

The push-button safety, located behind the trigger, had a child safety lock built into it, but it in no way interfered with the operation of the safety when it was not activated. The safety was smooth and positive.

To load the 750, the shooter drops a round in the chamber and pushes forward on a button, located on the left side of the box magazine, thus pulling down the follower and allowing the bolt to close. Then you can remove the magazine by pushing forward on a lever just in front of the trigger guard. The older-model 7400 magazines are interchangeable with the 750. Another advantage of the Remington is 10-round box magazines are available for the Remington.

The Remington came with a chamber brush, but we’d prefer a bore-snake that drops into the muzzle and can be pulled through the length of the gun. Cleaning the action spring is also fairly easy. To take the forend off, the shooter loosens the forend screw and removes the forend. Then he brushes the action spring and action tube with gun cleaning solvent, dries it, and applies a thin coat of Rem Oil to prevent rusting.

The trigger assembly pops out easily for cleaning, much like a shotgun trigger group. To remove the trigger assembly, the shooter closes the action, then taps out the front and rear trigger plate pins. Then lift the rear of the trigger plate assembly and remove the assembly from the receiver. At the range, the 750 shot near-MOA with everything we fed it.

Marlin .308 MX, $590

Reviewed: September 2007

Our Marlin came with mighty nicely figured walnut. The buttstock wood matched the wood of the forend, both having prominent contrasting grain and some fiddleback. The wood appeared to have an epoxy-base finish, it being quite hard and scratch-resistant. The checkering was excellent, with decorative touches. It wrapped the forend and was generous at the grip. The butt had a hard-rubber pad that curved to fit the shoulder, though it did little to cut recoil. There were sling studs, too.

The bluing and overall fitting were excellent, though we could have done without all the extra words of warning on the barrel.

The sights consisted of a buckhorn rear with a U notch, and a hooded front having a large, flat, gold-faced bead. We thought a good aperture rear sight would have been the way to go, rather than the dated "cowboy" buckhorn rear. The rear sight had the old-style stepped adjustment for elevation, with windage by drifting.

The action had well-polished flat sides with matte finish on top, and was fitted with a hammer-blocking cross bolt that could be used or ignored at will. The MX had the overall flavor of the old West, which we found pleasant. The fact that its ballistics match the .308 is cause for celebration, we thought.

The easily loaded tubular magazine held five rounds, and one could be added in the chamber for a total of six. The front of the magazine tube was secured to the barrel via a single screw going into a small carrier dovetailed into the barrel. We found the screw had worked loose after only a few shots. We snugged it up and then kept a wary eye on it, and found that it didn’t want to stay perfectly tight during our extended test shooting. It seemed that as this screw came loose, accuracy tended to deteriorate slightly. However, the Marlin had accuracy to spare, even at its worst.

Feeding, firing and ejection were perfect. The lack of suitable padding in the token recoil pad led to our noticing the kick, but it was not substantial. For those shy of recoil, a softer pad might be appropriate.

Our first sight-checking rounds of the iron sights gave us three shots touching at 25 yards, dead center, so it was not necessary to adjust anything. As noted, extraction and ejection were strong and easy, and primers appeared to have flattening commensurate with reasonable pressure.

There was a trace of creep in the trigger, which broke at 5.5 pounds. We felt the future owner of this rifle ought to have that taken care of.

With an empty weight of 7.3 pounds this wasn’t a lightweight, but that’s about the only thing we could complain about, concerning the Marlin. The balance and handling were superb. The lever was easy to work with the rifle at the shoulder. The rifle was easily carried with the hand wrapped around the action, which was the static balance point. However, a suitable scope would make the overall weight of the MX at least eight pounds, and that’s a good reason to consider a good aperture sight instead of a scope, for those whose eyes permit this.

On the range we found the Marlin was simply outstanding. We made one of the smallest lever-rifle groups ever recorded, with three touching at 50 yards from the machine rest. The group measured just 0.4 inch, not bad for crude cowboy sights.

Ejection was clean and easy, and the lever worked easily and smoothly throughout our test sessions. Rapid-fire working of the mechanism was easy, as well.

We liked the looks, the great wood, the feel and handling of the Marlin a lot. We liked its five-year warranty. It’d be great, we thought, if Marlin brought out a takedown rifle, if only for historic reasons. Marlin offers a takedown .22 in the Golden Model 39, but there are no centerfire takedowns available directly from the company as of this writing.

The Marlin combined its excellent accuracy and great looks to make it one of the best lever-action choices we’ve tested.

Bushmaster Patrolman’s Carbine

No. BCWA3F 16M4 .223, $1534

Reviewed: October 2007

Our Bushmaster Patrolman’s Carbine was yet another interpretation of the flat-top AR. The base price of this model was $1230 including the Fiberite Six Position adjustable stock and A2 front sight. But we picked several options to bring it into spec with our other carbines. A 4 Rail Free-Floater Forend (YHM-9479) was in place plus an Ergo Sure Grip (ARG-KIT). With another Ergo Sure Grip clamped to the bottom forend rail (ARG-FWD), we thought we were seeing double.

The forend grip could be placed anywhere along the bottom rail as long as it was far enough forward to clear the magazine. A large knob with a coin or screwdriver slot and knurled edges held the grip in place. With two pistol style grips in place, our stance took on a narrower profile. This would be especially advantageous when traveling down a hallway or taking cover in a tight space. The forend itself appeared to be fatter. This was because the rails were covered with slip-on Sure Grip rail covers featuring the Bushmaster logo, (SCH-6L). The rail covers created a smooth, rounded feel to the forend and increased its overall width by about 0.3 inches.

Another "optical illusion" was the A3-type removable carry handle, masking the true design of the receiver. The handle contained an A2 dual aperture rear sight with 1/2 minute of angle adjustment for both windage and elevation. There was also a hole in the carry handle for mounting a top rail. The carry handle/rear sight unit was held in place by two heavy knobs. This unit did not offer the same quick-change option afforded by the flip-up sights, but this unit was easy to take off and reapply. What it did offer was a very accurate sight picture. We also found that as long as the shooter maintained the original sight radius and returned the unit to the same position, taking it on and off had no effect on zero.

The A2-style carry handle was standard equipment on this model, but there are at least three different flip-up rear sights to choose from on the Bushmaster.com website. The muzzle was capped with another option, the Izzy Flash Suppressor/Compensator (IZ-102660). We wanted to find out if the Izzy would provide greater recoil control than the classic "birdcage" flash hider.

Seated at the shooting bench and performing a controlled press brought out the true nature of the trigger. There was no creep or grit at any point in the sweep of the Bushmaster’s trigger. The carry handle rear sight unit may not have offered the versatility of the flip-up sights, but there was far less compromise in attaining a fine sight picture. Shooting with the iron sights the Bushmaster favored the 62-grain rounds with groups averaging less than 1.5 inches across. With the Millett DMS-1 scope in place groups were measured in the one-inch range firing the heavier rounds. Shooting the Georgia Arms 55-grain FMJ rounds produced the best groups in the test varying in size from approximately 0.6 to 0.8 inches across.

Our rapid-fire tests taught us more about the capability of the carry handle sights. In our one-shot "draw and fire" drill, our elapsed time lagged behind the other carbines by about 0.15 seconds. Finding the aperture inside the carry handle was slower, but the hits were more accurate.

In our multiple targets rapid-fire drill, the refined trigger of the Bushmaster helped us land better hits, especially on head shots. The vertical grip did not necessarily make this drill any faster. But shooters who typically hold an AR by the front of the magazine well rather than the forend preferred the vertical grip in place. We felt that the Izzy compensator helped put us back on target quicker, but just how much was too difficult to quantify. The Izzy was not a full-blown compensator, but we noticed that our Bushmaster jumped less. With the versatility of the A3 design, the operator can have any sight picture or system they want on top of the receiver. Beneath its rail the Bushmaster XM A3 offered an excellent trigger and reliability.

Best in Class: SHOTGUNS

Benelli Super Black Eagle II

No. 10016 12 Gauge, $1515

Reviewed: January 2007

The laws of physics have always defined shooting comfort. There seemed to be no way around it—if you wanted less recoil, use a lighter shot charge or a heavier gun. Unfortunately, one limited terminal effectiveness of the load and the other dampened the speed and liveliness of the shotgun. In the Benelli, a space-age butt pad is ingeniously designed with a longitudinal peak in the middle that makes it comfortable for both left- and right-handed shooters. Weighing in right at 7 pounds, the SBEII is about a pound lighter than the average autoloader. It’s a lightweight shooter.

Gas-operated autoloaders usually reduce recoil by prolonging the curve of the recoil event, even when using heavy loads. Despite that still-troubling weight thing—since the gas piston technology was heavy they invariably shot softer than recoil-operated semis. Benelli seems to have leveled that playing field, however, largely through the reliable physics of its short-recoil (they call it Inertia-Driven) system surrounded by the ergonomics and energy-absorbing flex of the ComforTech approach.

According to Benelli, the space-age ComforTech stock and attendant big, soft, ergonomic butt pad reduce felt recoil by as much as 48 percent. ComforTech features a deep, soft gel-foam buttpad, a similarly cushioned comb and stock sidewall cuts fitted with chevrons of the same foam that serve to make turn the entire stock into a recoil pad.

The barrel is cryogenically treated (cold tempered to -300 degrees), which changes steel at the molecular level, making it harder. The result is reduced harmonics, meaning consistency shot-to-shot, and far easier cleaning. Recoil spring and guide are easily removed from the recoil tube in the stock cleaning.

This gun is a hunter. The length of pull was listed at 14.4 inches in the catalog but measured 14.125-inch on the test gun with the smallest recoil pad. We found that length to be ideal for the hunter wearing a coat, and the trigger guard is enlarged to accommodate gloved fingers. Another concession to the hunter was sling swivel studs molded into the buttstock and the magazine cap. There is no evaluation of walnut grain or wood-to-metal fit on this gun since it is synthetic-stocked, as are all but one version of the gun. We tested a black and matte version, although camo synthetics are also available. The comb is comfortably narrow, which makes it fit most shooters readily. Shims were included to adjust drop and cast, and two recoil pads allowed adjustments in length of pull.

Stippling replaces cut checkering in the grip and forend (Benelli calls it AirTouch) and gives good hand purchase, wet or dry.

It was difficult—no make that impossible—to make one system work for loads of all three 12-gauge chamber dimensions. Hunters were burdened by adjustable gas valves, o-rings and complex mechanisms that were difficult to understand and even harder to keep clean.

The SBEII came the closest to pulling off the trifecta any autoloader we’ve ever encountered. It handled 2.75-inch, 1 1/8-ounce trap loads just as easily as 3.5-inch waterfowl and turkey loads. Only when we dipped into subsonic 1-ounce target loads did the remarkable shooter occasionally fail to cycle, and that was probably an unfair test, as we were lowering charge size to the point of failure.

Benelli designers found that the answer was alleviating the gas system (and thus saving weight and bulk) and simplifying the short-recoil system instead of making it more elaborate. The entire bolt and cycling mechanism in the receiver can be removed in one jointed piece.

The barrel and top half of the receiver are a single piece, ala the AR-15/M-16 rifle (or the SBE’s cousin, the Beretta Pintail), adding rigidity to the simplicity. Don’t try to drill and tap the upper receiver/barrel for aftermarket sights, however, since the cold-tempering makes the steel virtually impenetrable.

The trigger broke consistently at nearly 7 pounds, which sounds heavy but was actually preferable for high-volume shooting in hunting fields.

Remington SPS-Turkey Camo

Thumbhole No. 25189, $799

Reviewed: June 2007

With more than 9 million Model 870 pump guns in circulation, one must assume that Remington has gotten the bugs out of this particular design.

The SPS (Special Purpose) series represents the high-end (along with Wingmaster) of the venerable dual-rail pump model line, which originated in 1950. While the Cheapened-to-sell-at-Marts Express version of the 870 is second only to Mossberg in annual worldwide sales, it appeals to the price-point conscious rather than the serious hunter or shooter. The SPS line offers higher quality albeit matte-finished, specialized versions for turkey, waterfowl and deer hunters.

The test model sported a 23-inch barrel with adjustable fiber-optic (TruGlo) rifle sights and an extra full Remchoke Turkey choke tube. The thumbhole stock was a wood laminate built by Boyd’s. It was the only tested gun that came with a sling, which in our view is essential for a turkey gun.

The trigger averaged a crisp, effective 5.2 pounds for 10 pulls with the Lyman digital trigger gauge. The 8-pound-plus heft, the ergonomics of the thumbhole stock’s rollover comb, and the peerless Sims R3 recoil pad made the mule-like kick of heavy turkey loads tolerable. The comb was just the right height to place the shooter’s eye in line with the raised rifle-style fiber optic sights—resulting in a solid cheekweld that also helps suppress perceived recoil. The gun was covered muzzle-to-heel with Mossy Oak’s Obsession pattern and featured an external choke tube.

While the receiver was not drilled and tapped for a scope rail, several mount manufacturers offer a saddle-style receiver mount that is affixed with pins that also hold the fire control system in the receiver.

We may have been a bit partial to 870 SPS in that we’ve made two of the most impressive shots of our turkey hunting lives with this particular gun. Suffice to say that, loaded with 3- or 3.5-inch Remington Wingmaster HD or Federal Heavyweight tungsten-alloy loads, the gun is absolutely lethal out to 60 yards and beyond.

We feel strongly that no turkey gun is worth $799. But other than that, the Remington 870 SPS-Turkey Camo Thumbhole was solid performer and probably could be amoritized as a lifetime investment. The trigger on the test gun was excellent for heavy ordnance, and the model’s fire-control system is easily adjusted by a knowledgeable hand with a hone—although not nearly as much as when milled steel trigger guards were the norm. The adjustable TruGlo fiber optic sight system was far superior to the primitive Benelli sights or the cheaper Mossberg version.

Despite the price and the shortest warranty period among the guns tested, we see the Remington SPS-Turkey Camo Thumbhole as an ideal turkey gun.

SPRINGFIELD ARMORY ENHANCED MICROPISTOL 9MM P192029LP

TAURUS MILLENNIUM PT145 PRO SSNO. 145SSP .45 ACP

SPRINGFIELD ARMORY XD40 SC HCNO. XD9822HCSP06 .40 S&W

PHOENIX HP22A .22 LR

SPRINGFIELD ARMORY XD45 COMPACT XD9645HCSP06 .45 ACP

SMITH & WESSON 686 PLUS .357 MAGNUM164194

CHARLES DALY 1873 STANDARD MODEL .38 SPECIAL/.357 MAGNUM

RUGER REDHAWK KRH-444

BROWNING BUCK MARK SPORTER .22 LR

REMINGTON MODEL 750 WOODSMASTER .30-06 NO. 27061

MARLIN .308 MX $590

BUSHMASTER PATROLMAN’S CARBINE BCWA3F 16M4

BENELLI SUPER BLACK EAGLE II NO. 10016 12 GAUGE

REMINGTON SPS-TURKEY CAMO THUMBHOLE 12 GAUGE 25189

2007 Don’t Buy Guns